Tully was bartending. I’d met him one time and so spotted him easily, a mostly bald man with bits of white hair at the sides of his head. We presented our IDs, and he shook his head, offering sodas in an endearing Irish brogue. He did look sympathetic with his softhearted smile. He had a dear face—a lovable face. His weary eyes had a mystical charm.
We went along with the sodas, as would be the case whenever Tully was there, and I lectured Farran about Valentin. “Look, if he shows up, just try to keep in mind that he’s older, and he’s experienced. Don’t give him any ideas. You’ll be sorry.”
“Uh, no. If that guy gets ideas about me, I will not be sorry,” she said. “I need to hit the gym first and work off some of the junk I’ve been scarfing down, but I’ll turn that head of his.”
“You’re not fat,” I told her. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Despite my concern for her, I loved the self-deprecating humor she shared with Angie. However, when she pointed out these flaws she believed she had, it triggered my feelings of inadequacy. It was as if I didn’t want to alert anyone to the fact that the world had stopped laughing at me. Well, it had seemed like the world, when, primarily, the culprit was Tommy Catalano. He had been my adversary for nearly a decade, doling out misery without mercy in those awkward childhood years, and now there seemed to be no end to the world’s cruelty, for there he was. He breezed in as if on cue, like he owned the place—or like a bad dream.
My heart sank, as I felt the heat from the blazing torch of shame I had carried since childhood. It permeated my body. I felt as if a dam had burst and flooded my brain with an unyielding gush of emotion. The world was too small, I told myself. Entirely too small.
His face hadn’t changed much, but how strange: He looked small now. He was maybe five-foot-eight with a medium build, but he’d been a giant to me for so long.
Farran was agape. “Last I saw of him, he enlisted in the military after high school.”
I noted that he had kept the short hair.
“He lost his mom too young,” she went on. “That was only three years ago. Then, last year, his brother shot himself in the head. A couple of months ago, his father got killed. My heart goes out to him.”
“How awful,” Angie lamented.
He staggered in our direction, and the feeling of dread overwhelmed me. After leaning this way and that, he zeroed in on me. “Hey, beautiful …”
Beautiful … did he have any idea? Well, I could see he was drunk.
“Long time no see,” I replied, catching him with my arm as he tipped forward. Many tattoos were visible with the tight, short-sleeved T-shirt he wore.
“You know me?”
“Um, yeah, Tommy, you know me, too. I’m Danielle DeCorso.”
“Little Danielle DeCorso? I don’t believe it!”
“You know my cousin, Angie.”
She was biting her thumbnail when he looked at her.
“I remember her. Seen Joe last night. I heard Robbie’s down in Florida.”
“Yeah, he’s going to college there.”
He eyed me suspiciously. “If you’re Danielle DeCorso, you’re probably still in high school. Do your parents know you’re in a bar?”
“Do they know? You’re kidding me, right?”
“I’m serious. Do your brothers know you’re in a bar?”
“Shush!” That was Farran. “Come on, Tommy, you can’t be more than twenty-one yourself. Give me a break.”
He shifted his eyes to her. “You look familiar.”
“I’m Farran Chapin. You probably saw me at Addison Park many moons ago. You hang out here?”
“Here and sometimes Déjà Vu in Manhattan—on the Upper West Side. What are you all doing here at the Cove?” He looked at me. “Do your brothers know you’re going to bars and drinking alcohol?”
“This is the first bar I’ve been to,” I said.
He didn’t let up. “So, right now, your parents have no idea where you are or what you’re doing.” He was staring me down. I thought those golden eyes of his eyes conveyed deep pain and sadness, with a touch of bitterness that seemed to attest to too much wisdom. “If you were my daughter, I’d want to know where you were. I’d want to know who you were with and what you were doing. I’d still be taking you out for ice cream. I wouldn’t want you hanging out in a bar with a motorcycle gang. Not that we are a bad motorcycle gang …” He smiled then, a rascally smile. He still had that fierce tiger face.
Farran asked the predictable question. “Are you one of the Lynx?”
“Yeah. You didn’t know that?” He walked off before she could reply.
“He’s cute,” Farran said. “He’s looking good.”
“Well, he was a bully to Danielle,” Angie reminded her.
“And I won’t forget his prejudice toward my family,” I said. “There’s so much hate in this world.”
“It’s not necessarily hate,” Farran argued. “People like to stick with their own. It’s what they know. Boys can be jerks. Everybody knows that. Tommy has grown up. He was nice to you, and he did make friends with your brothers eventually, so he’s obviously gotten over it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well I’m glad he’s gotten over it.”
I admit I had become as intolerant of him as he’d been of me all those years ago. Though a pattern had begun, I no longer wanted to be a victim—his or anyone else’s.
“He sacrificed to enlist in the military,” Farran said. “He deserves our respect.”
The conversation ended there, because Valentin showed up, and whenever he did, it was like a torrent of wind. He walked briskly, whole-souled and energized, providing kisses, handshakes, and chatter. He had a way of flitting around like lightning with a fast-paced whirl here and there. He shined, appearing comfortable and confident.
This night, he had someone with him—someone with the same chiseled cheekbones, albeit two inches shorter and with a weighty batch of very dark, curly hair to his shoulders. They were stopping at tables and talking with various people, including Shannon.
Shannon called me over. “This is my boyfriend, Nico Castel,” she gushed about the one who’d arrived with Valentin. “Nico, this is Joey’s sister, Danielle.”
I could swear Nico’s eyes were coal black. He had a chiseled jawline, sensuous lips, and the nose of a Greek God. When he nodded and smiled, the gleam was white radiance and dimpled perfection. He was ruggedly robust, dressed casually in a sweater with jeans and boots.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you as well,” I replied.
Shannon drew Valentin into the circle, saying, “Valentin, you remember Joey’s sister, Danielle.”
I tried not to stare at people or watch them too intently when they spoke to me, but it was hard—especially with this bunch. At the same time, I easily avoided the many admiring eyes upon me—patrons throughout the bar. I wasn’t comfortable being the focus.
Valentin leaned forward and clasped my hand. “Joey tells me your father is Italian, and your mom is from Brazil.”
“Yes,” I said. “Actually, my maternal grandfather purchased farmland in Paraíba and moved the family there when my mom was only three, but they are originally from Spain.”
He perked up. “Where in Spain?”
“The Extremadura region of Cáceres.”
He smiled. “An incredible place.”
“You’ve been there?”
“Yes, I went to school in Spain for four years.”
“I’ve never been there.”
“Never?” It seemed to surprise him. “You have to go. It’s a very medieval old town with a lot of Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture. It’s amazing.”
In that moment, he was familiar to me. I didn’t want him to be, yet I had this feeling I already knew him, that we had met in another life, and I had always known him, in every life that I’d lived. The feeling was corny and bizarre but strong.
“The weird thing is, my mother speaks a lot more Spanish than Portuguese,” I told him. “Even when we went to Brazil, they were all talking Spanish. And she makes only one Portuguese dish—arroz de pato. It’s like rice with duck.”
Farran came over, and, I must admit, I had almost forgotten about her and Angie, whom she was pulling along.
Shannon introduced them to Nico, and Farran asked which brother was older.
Nico pointed a thumb toward Valentin. “He’s going to be twenty-three soon. I’ll be twenty-two in December.” His accent was not much different from my own, though I heard a faint inner city blend. I figured that was the reason Farran had to inquire about their ethnicity.
“Spanish, French, Russian, and even some Romanian blood,” Valentin told her. “Our maternal grandmother was from Craiova.”
“Is that near Transylvania?” I had to ask.
Valentin laughed and then turned to Nico. “Ah, she likes vampires.”
Nico responded with a smile.
“Well, they fascinate me,” I said. “I mean, the subject fascinates me.”
“Me as well,” Valentin replied.“But to answer your question, Craiova is in the southern part of the country. It’s the Wallachia region, where Vlad the Impaler ruled as a Wallachian prince. Transylvania is in the central part of the country. It’s a four or five-hour drive.”
Farran clamored for center stage again. “Do any of you, by chance, have a cigarette?”
Shannon pulled a pack of cigarettes from her jacket and gave one to Farran, who lit the cigarette, took a long puff, and seemed to exaggerate the exhale.
Katharine Jaeger arrived then and sauntered in our direction. She slipped her arm through Valentin’s while Shannon made the introductions.
“I vaguely remember seeing you somewhere,” she said to me. “Farran I remember.”
She was, perhaps, five-foot-six, with a lovely figure and a nice chest, dressed casually in knee-high boots. Her light, natural blonde hair, straight and fine, fell a few inches past her shoulders. If she wore any makeup, I couldn’t tell, but her baby blue eyes were incredible. They held an ingenuous gaze—a blend of naïveté and raw honesty. To look at her, I never would have thought of her as a married woman, let alone a mother. I did see her as an older woman, which is quite funny, as she was barely twenty at the time.
She kissed Valentin before gracing us with a childlike grin of appreciable size, aseptic, stainless teeth beaming. He held her close.
“We have to go, or we’ll miss part of the movie,” Shannon said, adjusting the bag over her shoulder. “Oh, Danielle, it was so nice to see you again.” She gave me another hug. “I hope to see you soon.” She hugged Farran and Angie.
Valentin wished us all a good night. “Ten cuidado,” he said, looking directly at me.
“Always,” I assured him with a good-natured grin.
He put his arm around Katharine and gently led her forward.
“Good night, girls,” Nico said.
I saw Tommy intercept them at the doorway. He was horsing around with Valentin and then followed them out the door.
Farran began her inquisition immediately. “What was all that with you and Valentin? Shannon took you over there and ignored Angie and me.”
I tensed. “I don’t think she meant to exclude you. She was excited for me to meet Nico.”
“I am more concerned with your bonding with Valentin over Spain and all this other crap. Are you trying to make it harder for Angie and me?” Before I could get angry with her, she flashed a smile. “Damn, you got enough guys here drooling over you. Leave some for us.”
Her concern that Valentin would become interested in me romantically—or any of us, for that matter—surprised me.
“So what’d he say to you in Spanish?” she asked.
“He told me to be careful. He was being polite. It’s normal for people to find common ground. I mean, he was with his wife!”
Her eyes narrowed. “Valentin can do better. So can Nico.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I argued. “Valentin is with Katharine. Nico’s with Shannon. And I doubt they want to play tea party with a bunch of teenagers.”
Farran was defiant. “I’ll play tea party with Valentin anytime he wants, or whatever the hell else he wants to play.”
I wondered if she had any grasp on the reality of what she was saying. At the time, every male signaled danger to me. I knew what could happen if I let my guard down, even for a moment, and I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t want Farran or Angie to do it either. I felt like their mother (not to mention, a broken record) saying things like, “You can get pregnant. You can get a bad reputation.” What I didn’t say was, “You can get into a situation where you are forced to do something you really don’t want to do.” And that’s what I wanted to say most of all.
Running into Tommy had worried me, too. I brought it up at the dinner table on Saturday night when it was just my parents and me. I didn’t mention that I saw him, but I asked if they remembered his dad and the accident that had killed him over the summer in Bridgeport.
“That was no accident,” my father divulged.
My mother seemed taken aback. “Why would you say that? He was crossing the street outside a bar and got hit by a car.”
“Eh, why do I say that …? He was run over twice, Grace. The car ran him over, backed up, and ran over him again. That’s why I say that.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what that means.”
“Heh! Means they wanted to make sure he didn’t survive.”
My eyes widened. “You think that was a mob hit? Like an execution-style murder?”
My mother clenched her teeth. “Like he was there.”
“I wasn’t there, but I heard about it,” he said.
I was intrigued. “So Tommy’s father was in the mob?”
“Of course. That bar is a bookie joint run by the mob. Just like when they lived here, the guy was hanging around in a mafia-run bookie joint.”
“What’s a bookie joint?” I asked.
“They play the numbers,” he said. “They’re involved with all kinds of gambling and who knows what else.”
My mother seemed confused. “Why would they kill him?”
“Why? We have a saying for it in Italy, but they say the same thing here. Loose lips sink ships. He drank too much, and he had a big mouth. For sure, somebody didn’t like it. Somebody did away with him. Just like Kennedy. Who do you think killed Kennedy? That was the mob, too.”
“Stop,” my mother said.
“You say nothing to nobody,” he told us. “You know nothing. I know nothing. That’s all. The guy was no goddamn good anyway. The wife wanted to leave him for years, but the church wouldn’t allow it. What kind of bullshit is that? She had to put up with his shit ‘til she dropped dead.”
“They had problems,” my mother said. “That doesn’t mean he was bad.”
He waved, dismissing her. “You didn’t sleep with him. She did. Who knew better than her? Same bullshit with my mother and father—they were young, their parents arranged everything. My father was never happy. My mother was never happy.”
“That was the way they did things then.”
“I understand that, Grace,” he said. “What, because people do it, that means it’s a good idea? People jump off the bridge, and that makes it a good idea? What gets me is, you got all kinds of guys of all kinds of nationalities in the mob, but it’s always Italian, Italian. In the movies, they’re Italian. If you’re Italian, they want to know if you’re in the mob.”
I laughed. My mother did, too.
“Well, this guy was Italian,” she quipped.
The look on his face was priceless. It had my mother and me laughing again.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.